I have been spending some time in conferences, with clients and alone thinking about why everyone isn't buying their hearing aids online. I haven't been able to come up with a really solid and concise answer. But I will try and write down and make sense of what I have so far. Please let me know your reasons, if you need hearing aids, but wouldn't consider buying hearing aids online.
I believe the main reason that more people are not buying hearing aids online is that they simply don't trust online businesses yet. This may seem like a funny statement as online sales have pretty much taken over retail sales in most, if not all the western markets. But when I think a little bit more about this I believe that the hearing industry is tailored to a slightly older population than most online retail markets. Well I know many people in their 60's to 90's are buying some products online, there is a little bit more scepticism in this age bracket, than in younger generations. Can the online retailer be trusted? Will the product be factory seconds?, or 'Made in China' junk? These concerns are very legitimate, we all know that there are scammers in all industries selling from all mediums. With online hearing aid retailers you can usually get a pretty good impression of the company by combing through their website, reading customer reviews and picking up the phone and talking to a real person. Ask them the hard questions about hearing loss. If they can't anwser technical questions about hearing loss or hearing aids, they really shouldn't be in the hearing aid business.
The simple facts are that online business is going to take a greater percentage of retail sales as time goes by. And the hearing industry is not any different. In-fact the price proposition between buying hearing aids online or inside of your local hearing clinic is far greater than than buying a camera or television online versus inside of your local electronics retailer. Often people will save several thousand dollars buying their hearing aids online, while they may only save $50 buying a camera from Amazon over buying it at Walmart.
Another reason I believe that many clients are still buying their hearing aids in local hearing clinics is that the hearing industry can be very confusing. Big hearing aid companies like Phonak, Siemens, Starkey and Oticon re-package the same technology and sell it under many different names. When customers leave their Audiologist's office after having their hearing tested they have usually been recommended a specific product for their hearing needs, "The best hearing aid for your particular hearing loss is the Phonak Audeo Q". After being tested by a hearing professional this can be a pretty powerful statement, after all they just spent the better part of an hour diagnosing your specific hearing loss and now they are recommending the best hearing aid to help you hear better again.
The truth is there are many reasons why one Audiologist recommends one brand of hearing aid and another Audiologist recommends another. Usually, the reason one hearing aid is recommended over another has more to do with business than choosing "The best hearing aid for your particular hearing loss". Companies like Phonak and Oticon own large retail hearing clinic chains, you have about a 99% chance the Audiologist working at these companies will be recommending one of the hearing aids that they manufacturer.
Other hearing aid manufacturers take their customers on lavish vacations. It's very common for big hearing aid companies to incentivize hearing clinic owners and Audiologists with Cruises and other luxury vacations. I guess when customers are paying $5000 for a pair of hearing aids there is enough profit for companies like Starkey, Siemens, Phonak and Oticon to throw around.
The truth is that 70% of all hearing aids sold are Open-Fit hearing aids. The vast majority of people live with a varied degree of high frequency hearing loss and Open-Fit hearing aids provide the most natural sound quality to aid this hearing impairment. While all of the companies claim to have the best hearing aid, the reality is that most modern digital Open-Fit hearing aids are very comparable in technology and features.
It just so happens that Open-Fit hearing aids are the easiest hearing aids to fit, as well the easiest to adjust to. They do not require custom ear moulds, but rather come with changeable EarTubes and EarBuds, making them simple to size and adjust without the help of a hearing professional. For these customers they can often buy hearing aids online for a fraction of the price they would pay inside of a hearing clinic and experience very similar results.
You simply can't buy all of the same hearing aids online that you can buy inside of hearing clinics. Customers with Severe to Profound hearing loss or customers wanting deep insertion custom hearing aids, like the Starkey OtoLens or the Phonak Lyric, are better served inside of a hearing clinic. Also customers who simply require more face-to-face instruction or service are better off purchasing their hearing aids inside of a hearing clinic, just take a minute and realize how much of the $5000 you are spending is for the cost of the hearing aids and how much is for the service.
I also believe that your typical consumer becomes worn out when experiencing hearing loss. They see a multitude of advertising about hearing aids. Newspaper ads, TV commercials, Direct Mail campaigns are flooding most markets. Often our in store clients have known they have a hearing loss for years before they buy their first hearing aid. A combination of the borage of marketing and loved ones in the background pushing for change eventually seems to convince them that its time to buy hearing aids. They are almost always very happy after they get used to the hearing aids and they almost all say the exact same thing when they're asked why they waited so long - "I felt like I was getting by o'kay, I didn't want to spend the $5000".
I don't believe a person should have to way out hearing better or buying a second hand car or a family vacation. Perhaps as consumers become more educated about hearing aids and more comfortable buying hearing aids online we'll see that people don't decide to live with hearing loss for years before purchasing hearing aids because they cost so much.
And lastly I would like to add a little something. On a recent vacation to a beautiful destination of Sun and Sand, I spoke with other vacationers who wore hearing aids. I was very surprised to learn that many of them didn't realize that buying hearing aids online was even an option. Many of them had to save money over the year in in order to enjoy their 7 to 10 days close to the ocean. The money they would have saved simply by purchasing their hearing aids online would have bought most of their vacations two times.
I showed these people the comparable hearing aids to what they were wearing on our website. Needless to say they all wished they met me a little bit sooner.